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Points of Order

Volume 611: debated on Wednesday 25 May 2016

Yes, points of order. It is usually at least a three-course meal in my experience. We will start with Anne Main.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I just heard the Chancellor say that we should debate the substance and not the process in our debates on the EU referendum. As I let you know this morning, Mr Speaker, I have tried to do exactly that. I have written numerous questions, but I am basically getting answers that say, “Talk to the hand.” I approached the Procedure Committee, which admitted that I have not had substantial answers, or indeed any answers, to some questions. What more can be done? The Government are trying to muzzle those of us who are trying to get to the truth of all this. They are trying to ensure that we do not get any answers. The Government are acting disgracefully, and I am ashamed at their behaviour.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order and for her courtesy in giving me advance notice of its thrust. I also note that she has expressed her disappointment in the Government in very forceful terms. She is most assiduous in pursuing this matter, and I say to her that it is, to put it mildly, regrettable that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is late in responding to a request from the Procedure Committee. That should not happen. If there is a Whip on the Treasury Bench, he or she should note that it is frankly unacceptable. If there is not, that message should be relayed to the relevant Whip sooner rather than later. I am sure that the lapse, which will be very unsatisfactory, not least to the Chair of the Procedure Committee, the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), and his colleagues on the Committee, will have been noted on the Treasury Bench. I hope that it will be duly communicated to the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills.

If the hon. Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) has tabled questions that are orderly—they would not be on the Order Paper unless they were adjudged to be orderly—they should receive replies and quickly. My advice to the hon. Lady is to look for those replies each day from now on. If she does not get them, I rather imagine that she will return to the subject. In the interests of propriety, however, the Department should now provide those answers. Its performance is unsatisfactory. I do not want to use the word “shameful”, but it is unsatisfactory.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Yesterday, the House had a comprehensive debate on the Government’s foreign policy and, in particular, its role in arms deals with Saudi Arabia. I put it to the Government that an urgent investigation should take place, following new evidence showing that UK bombs have been used in Yemen. At yesterday’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions, the Foreign Secretary stated that

“the Ministry of Defence is urgently investigating the allegations, and I believe there will be an urgent question on this subject shortly.”—[Official Report, 24 May 2016; Vol. 611, c. 395.]

This morning, the Ministry of Defence gave a statement to the BBC World Service that contradicts the Foreign Secretary’s comments yesterday. The MOD statement says:

“We are not launching an investigation, we are seeking urgent clarification from Saudi Arabia as to whether or not these weapons have been used in the recent conflict and that is our usual policy.”

Have either the Foreign Secretary or his office asked you whether he can come to the House to clarify the position?

No, no request to issue a clarification has been made to me. If memory serves me correctly, the line of the Government that no investigation is under way was put by the Defence Secretary in response to the urgent question yesterday—that is my recollection—although, as the hon. Lady says, that is a different stance from that proffered by the Foreign Secretary at oral questions. It is not entirely novel for there to be different statements on the same subject emanating from representatives of different Departments. If a Minister thinks, in the light of the facts, that he needs to correct the record of what he said—I think the hon. Lady has the Foreign Secretary in mind in this context—doubtless he will do so. If he does not, it is presumably because he judges there to be no need. In that situation, the hon. Lady must table questions if she wants further elucidation, but it would be useful to have clarity on the matter.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On Thursday 19 May, the shadow Minister for Europe, the hon. Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass), visited Sawley in my constituency, where she gave a radio interview in which she described one of my constituents—

Order. I must ask the hon. Lady what on earth what was said outside the Chamber could possibly have to do with me in the Chair.

All sorts of things reflect badly or well, but it has got nothing to do with the Chair. If the Chair took responsibility for what people said outside this Chamber, I really would have a very, very large responsibility indeed. It is very kind of the hon. Lady if she wishes to invest me with that sort of imperial power, but I do not think I have it and I doubt the House would want me to either.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) raised the issue of the Brain family in my constituency, the Chancellor of the Exchequer replied by saying that he would write to my right hon. Friend. This family are due to be deported in the next few days, and I am concerned about the timeliness of a letter, if that was to be written to my right hon. Friend. What routes are open to me to make sure that this case is urgently addressed, through the Home Secretary, to respect what was put in place at the time the family came here—that the post-work study visa would be in place—so that we do not deport this family, who are a credit to the highlands?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. My short answer to his inquiry is that if the matter is urgent, in his judgment, he knows the recourse available to him, and it would then be for the Chair to judge whether the matter was urgent. Perhaps we can leave it there for now. The right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) is stirring in his seat. [Interruption.] No, he does not have a point of order. Well, it is one thing to play with one’s own hair, but it is another thing to play with somebody else’s. I wondered whether there was a point of order brewing from the right hon. Gentleman, but there was not on this occasion—another time. I am sure he was being helpful.